With the wind in the right direction, the P1 GTR reaches almost 200mph, and there is no such thing as enough pressure on the pedal at that speed
That would have enabled me to call it a genuine 1000bhp car, which, thanks to the always conservative way in which these figures are calculated, it undoubtedly is. But the calculator offers a rather less catchy 986bhp, and there it must stay.
You can see how easy it is to obsess over the bald numbers of such a car, and now that I’ve driven it as fast as I can make it go and until the only yelping was from the searing pain shooting through my neck muscles, I find that amusing.
But owners will also be able to take their cars home and do with them as they will. I don’t imagine too many will be turning up at a ‘run what you brung’ day at Mallory Park, but if they wanted to, they could. You could take it to the Nürburgring, too.
Given that McLaren chief test driver Chris Goodwin reckons the GTR is between five and 10 seconds a lap swifter than a P1 around Losail, that the Nordschleife lap is four times the length of Losail and that the P1 has already gone under seven minutes there, you don’t need a calculator to realise the genuinely terrifying potential within those pumped-up, drawn-down lines.
But the truth is that but a small fraction of that additional raw speed comes from the extra power and 50kg weight loss. The increase in downforce is a significant help, but the night-and-day difference is the tyres. Goodwin describes the rubber on the road-going P1 as the car’s fuse, the weak link in its design, and you can see why.
However good a job Pirelli did – and by all accounts it was superb – it still had to provide a tyre good enough to work in all weather conditions, for some thousands of miles over a lifespan certainly measurable in months and years.
I stab it with my thumb and a small bomb goes off behind my right ear as the twin-turbocharged 3.8-litre motor spits flame through its new and unsilenced titanium and Inconel exhausts. The door folds down and I am alone in a carbonfibre cocoon, hoping that shaking sensation is the car and not me.
How do you deal with what must come next? I’d like to ease myself into the experience, but today McLaren is introducing the GTR to potential customers and apparently if you have two million quid to spend on one, that makes you more important than me. So I kick my foot to the floor and feel instantly, physically sick.
It’s what happens when your inner ear finds itself on the receiving end of something entirely unexpected. It’s not the extra power and torque that catch you out so much as what a set of soft slicks can do with it, namely dump the whole lot onto the hot Qatari asphalt.
Only now do you realise just how well and unobtrusively the normal P1’s traction systems work. But I can’t just sit here wondering why lunch is fighting back, because there’s work to be done.
So you have to stop. Get out, go for a walk, drink coffee, do anything but drive this bloody car. I thought that by now I’d be drunk on the power and performance; in fact, I’ve never felt more sober in my life. You have to look the issue in the eye and ask yourself if you’re still actually good enough to do this job, to drive this car in such a way as to be able to tell its story.
My only consolation is that Goodwin is not surprised by my reaction, and nor is Parry-Williams, who is kind enough to tell me that he actually forgot to breathe when he first drove it. It’s that sort of car.
When I climb into my carbonfibre saddle for the second time, though, it’s as if McLaren has replaced the car with the P1 GTR I’d dreamt of all along. I’ll not be the first to note that the brain is a remarkable organ, and given just a little time to process the glut of information that it has just been fed, it can deploy its near-infinite capacity to adapt to its surroundings.
So this time I am neither scared nor nauseated by being turned into a human cannonball every time I press the throttle, merely exhilarated beyond what I imagined the capacity of a road car might be, however comprehensively modified for a track-only environment.
I thought it would be like a modern GT3 racer, set up to accept maximum braking followed by maximum acceleration with no time for any part-throttle balancing act between the two. But the GTR is not like that.
It’s quickest to ease gently onto the power, adding a little additional lock as the understeer gradually builds, but it’s far more fun to cancel that with a slightly sharper kick of the right foot.
One stint ago, I’d have feared that such a move might land me in Bahrain, but now I can feel the car addressing each corner in a state of gorgeous neutrality, trajectory controlled more by power than steering and all delivered with zero delay courtesy of the hybrid drive.
In the end, it is only the high-speed braking that continues to befuddle my mind. With the wind in the right direction, the P1 GTR reaches almost 200mph here, and there is no such thing as enough pressure on the pedal at that speed.
As I leave the circuit, it occurs to me that by the end of the second session, acceleration that had literally made me feel ill at the start of the first felt, if not normal, then at least natural and no more than commensurate with the surroundings in which I found myself. And I know how absurd that sounds.
By far the more remarkable achievement is a chassis that will pull more than 2.5 lateral g yet still remember that despite its pulverising pace, what matters most is not how fast you go but how much fun you have going fast.
What is the P1 GTR like? Try to imagine a car with as near to 1000bhp as makes no difference that weighs under 1400kg dry. Think of the acceleration that might result, and then be advised that this is the least interesting thing it does.
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